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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

A New Role on the Mat

October 13th, 2021

Word Play

No, I did not misspell ‘roll’ as ‘role.’ I meant the homophonic play on words. It is called a pun and you will need to read the article to understand. Intrigued? Me too, now I have to figure out how to write this. Please be forewarned, there will be some parental bragging.

New Hellos

Say hello to Rosemary or Rosy as she likes to be called (which does seem to fit her personality) and her daughter, Kayla. They have both joined our Adult program. Please be prepared as Rosy has a very long Taekwondo history. Welcome! We need to get more gis!!!

To Do’s

žThursdays, 8:00 pm. A new Adult class taught by Annie Small. If you love her fun and cheerful style of Aikido in her once-a-month Sunday class, you are in luck! Annie is in the house every Thursday evening.

žLehrman Sensei – Wednesday October 13th, 7:00 pm. Lehrman Sensei will teach this Wednesday. Put it in your calendar. He teaches the second Wednesday of every month.

žHalloween Class – Sunday, October 31, 11:00 am, All Day. Come to the dojo in a costume! I have found that capes, while cool on a superhero, not a good idea on an Aikido mat. But I trip on my hakama once a class, so maybe it’s me. I will be teaching one of the classes. I have not decided which one (be forewarned).

žVeterans’ Day Class – Thursday, November 11, 7:00 pm. Open to all members and guests. We will be honoring veterans, starting with our own nine ASNJ students who have served. Please come to show your support and stay for a fun class and a great party to follow. This event is free and open to all members of ASNJ and veterans from any dojo who wish to spend the evening celebrating with us. There will be food and refreshments after class. The event is being co-sponsored by the Cranford VFW.

Aikido Up North

I am sitting up in Maine. It is 1492-day weekend (That is what my history teacher son likes to call this day. Columbus Day to others.) If you like to see the fall leaves change colors, this is one of the best times to be in Maine. It is just after sunrise and as usual, I am up before most people. The birds have discovered the refilled bird feeders. I’m enjoy the morning with a cup of tea, doing some work, taking in the bucolic back drop and watching the birds. The awkward part is when there is always a loud “Clunk.” A bird has once again mistaken the glass windows as, well, not being glass windows. They perceive there is nothing there.

This reminded me of something we worked on last class. I am still teaching entering in either soto or uchi and how we perceive each one differently. But last class we entered not just to enter but with an atemi (punch or strike) to the face along the way. The idea is not to hit uke (if you want to actually learn how to hit your partner in the face, then come to the Tai Chi Chuan class), but to effect a change to uke’s balance and posture by the perceived threat of a fist. The actual technique (what we worked on) is very skilled. If to bring up your fist too early, uke just blocks it (unless they are really nice or asleep). If you bring it up too late, they do not get a chance to see it and you are only punching them in the face. There is a sweet spot as well as a correct angle and direction to the movement. Now, for the bird-brained analogy, you are not hitting them, but you need to have a real intent for them to perceive the movement as real. It is all in their perception, not reality. They must completely feel the intent and panic. Like the birds, perception is often not real in a bad way. Clunk.

A New Role on the Mat

Well, I really did set this up with a high expectation, it better be good. There is a lot of pressure on me to write something special…….I think I will have breakfast and write this later.

Breakfast was good, now, the story. My younger son, Jacob, is an actor and is finishing up his college journey majoring in musical theater. Many of you may know that my dear friend Hal (Lehrman Sensei) is also an actor as well as his wife who starred in many a Broadway show. I, as a non-thespian, am surrounded with people who are actors and know how to do it well. Acting is not what I thought -- pretending to be someone else. That’s bad acting and many of us have seen this. Skilled acting is an internal experience where one learns to connect to their center and their experiences, in the moment. It becomes an extension of who they are. Sound a little familiar?

Jacob called us on our drive up to Maine to regale us with this story from his class. He was in acting class taught by the head of the department. Her instruction was to pick a song and personalize it by singing it to people from your own life. Each student spent 30-45 minutes working on their song choice and getting individual instruction and performing to the whole class. Jacob picked “I Don’t Care Much” from Cabaret. An angry, and somewhat intense song. His teacher said he had done a great job of personalizing it and attaching emotion to it but that it still came out flat because it was missing Love. To her, if there was no Love to show, then why would you waste your energy singing. His last attempt to sing this song, Jacob got it, he understood the Love, it all clicked. He sang the song, the last note faded away and everyone was dead silent. No one spoke for 30 seconds. The teacher explained, once every few years, a student gets “it”, and this was one of those moments (Gushing parent here). Then we discussed what happened for Jacob to enable this epiphany.

Now why am I telling you all. Jacob, as every good son should, called his parents and relayed the story. When he was explaining how he connected to the Love, it resonated with me. O’Sensei always talks about a Love in Aikido. To be very honest, I attributed this to his Omoto experience, but now, I got it, as Jacob did when he performed. Love is the only emotion that is two-way. You need someone else to experience Love with. Obviously, the use of the word Love for “I love this car,” or “I love this piece of art” is not the true meaning of Love, but only someone’s infatuation. True Love (yes, I am quoting ‘The Princess Bride’) needs two people to connect in a very vulnerable way. One might even say they harmonize. Sensei Lehrman talks about embracing uke the way a great actor embraces the audience. A great actor does not just stand on stage and perform to a one-way mirror, they connect with the audience and perform for each and every person there. A great concert performer, like Bruce Springsteen, will make you feel as if he is singing just to you. That connection, as Jacob’s acting teacher expressed, is the Love.

When uke grabs your wrist, it is not just an attack, it is a connection, a moment shared by two people. The attack, like Jacob’s song pick, was not based on Love (this is obvious, but I still need to state this). You need to bring the Love into the moment, to embrace ukes not with anger, that is not harmony, but with Love. This is the Love that O’Sensei is talking about. Meet uke with Love. Acting, Aikido, or just being. It is all the same. The art is in the relationship.

Now I understand acting. Now Jacob understands Aikido. He understands what I have been talking about at the dinner table all these years as I also was figuring out what O’Sensei was talking about. Jacob and I were in harmony during that cathartic conversation. We were connected, we were in Love.

G-d bless O’Sensei. I think I understand what his teaching a little better. Now I have a lifetime of practice to do.

--Sensei Jay

“The true meaning of the 'samurai' is one who serves and adheres to the power of love.”

- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido

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